tv Washington Week PBS August 26, 2017 1:30am-2:01am PDT
robert: battles abroad. battles at home. president trump changes course in afghanistan. goes to war with republicans. and threatens a shutdown over a border wall. i'm robert costa. we cover it all tonight on "washington week." president trump: we are not nation building again. we are killing terrorists. robert: president trump expands the u.s. role in afghanistan. convinced by his generals that the 16-year conflict had reached a critical juncture. >> we're not winning in afghanistan right now. robert: the president also puts pakistan on notice. president trump: we can no longer be silent about pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations. robert: what will victory look like under the trump plan? [cheering] robert: on the campaign trail,
the president fires up his base. president trump: they are trying to take away our culture. they are trying to take away our history. and our weak leaders, they do it overnight. robert: and throws down an ultimatum to congress. fund a border wall or else. president trump: we have to close down our government, we're building that wall. robert: so what happened to the plan to have mexico pay for it? we'll get answers and analysis from julie pace of the associated press. jake sherman of politico, nancy youssef of "the wall street journal," and dan balz of "the washington post." >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> we've all been affected by cancer some way, somehow. dana-farber cancer institute is pursuing breakthroughs every day to help end cancer, like
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common good. epics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator, robert costa. robert: good evening. as hurricane harvey barrels toward the texas gulf coast we send our thoughts to those who call the region home. please, stay safe. here in washington, a different type of storm is brewing between the president and congressional republicans over the debt ceiling. a budget to keep the government running and funding for a border wall. the president continues to pick fights with fellow republicans and play the blame game over the defeat of health care. in fact, he tweeted this week
the only problem i have with senate majority leader mitch mcconnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. that never should have happened. during a visit to his home state, kentucky, mcconnell joked about the limits of his power as a senate leader with a slim majority. >> i'm asked what is being majority leader of the senate like? it's a little bit like being a groundskeeper at a cemetery. everybody is under you but nobody is listening. robert: complicating matters even more, the president is making a threat to shut down the government if congress does not find federal funds to build that border wall with mexico. julie, as the president goes to war with thiss own party, what are the costs to him and his agenda? julie: there are potential short-term costs and long-term costs. in the short term you have to put it in context of where we
are in washington. we are heading into a september where there are really big issues on the table -- raising the debt ceiling, keeping the government funded. that is before the white house even gets to the possibility of passing some kind of tax reform legislation. while trump has a republican majority in the house and the senate, on the senate side in particular, it is pretty slim. so if he is going to be going after members of his own party and giving them reasons to potentially vote against him, you could see that cost come pretty quickly. as you look into 2018 i look at arizona with jeff flake. if he is really rallying behind kelly ward or another possible challenger to flake he could be putting republicans in a position to put a weaker general election candidate on the ballot and if that seat were to go to a democrat even if the republicans maintain the senate majority that margin could get slimmer. that has long-term consequences for him. i think we have to be open to the possibility there are no consequences at all. we've been in this situation with trump before where he does something, goes after an ally, someone in his own party, and republicans grumble and talk
tough every day privately but there are no practical consequences. robert: there is this war of words, jake, within the party. we've seen this drama among republicans for so long. but the key things they need to get done -- the debt limit -- will they pass a clean debt limit without anything attached to make sure the markets don't get rattled? will they pass a budget that funds the border wall? can they get those things done? jake: i had conversations with republicans this week who told me there's about 20 votes in the senate and very few votes in the house for a clean debt limit bill. that's a big problem. the president according to republicans i talk to all the time has not been forceful in saying what he wants. he's not said a word about the debt ceiling. he's not said i want a clean debt ceiling. i need a debt ceiling with strings. for a while in his white house they were worrying among themselves and he had people saying completely opposite things. they are finally on the same page. the border wall is going to be a big fight. everybody on the hill that i speak to, republican and
democrat, believes there will be a shutdown either in september or in december. robert: let's pause there. you're saying, jake, they may extend government funding until december, a short-term c.r., the lingo here in washington, to keep the government running and maybe think a border wall later on? jake: so the government runs out of money the end of september and a way to kick the can down the road and have the fight with the ending time of christmas which is a lot more alluring for members of congress and maybe will help them get their act together, it is helpful for them. trump is itching for a fight. he sees this as an election promise he needs to fulfill. rightfully he says i ran on this. this is the central part of my campaign building this wall. i think he is going to go to the mat for this in a way he has not for health care, tax reform, or any other priority. robert: will he, dan? dan: i don't know. he bluss terse and he threatens and then he kind of lets it
fade away. i'm waiting to see just how much he does go to war over this. it's entirely possible that he will not do that, that he will talk tough and then he will find a way to diminish the significance of not having had it done. bomani: what is the cost for -- robert: what is the cost for the base? dan: that is the most important issue. as jake said, this is the rallying cry of all rallying cries. it exceeds at his rallies repeal and replace. build that wall. we saw it again, you know, every time he does a rally we see the chance go up. he's not talking about mexico paying for it anymore, obviously. but building that wall is still a touchstone with his base. so i don't know how he gets out of that. i thought it was surprising that he laid that marker down when he did. and put himself in a very, very difficult position. robert: joy i was thinking back
to one of your interviews in the spring. you talked to president trump and he talked then about making the showdown over a border wall but he talked about a watered down version, could we expect that again? julie: that gets to dan's point that we have been through these episodes before where trump will say i will absolutely not sign something unless it has x in it, in this case the border wall, and he finds a way out where he feels he can still appeal to his base but doesn't have to take the drastic step to shut down the government. i do think this is one of those situations where it is going to be fascinating to see how steve bannon operates on the outside because he was the guy in the white house that had the white board in his office. in talking to him and talking to other trump supporters there at the campaign they feel like the wall is so central to this campaign promise that it wasn't just the chance that appealing to people in the campaign, they really want the wall built, trump supporters. if trump looks like he is waffling on this i have a hard
time imagining breitbart will be anything less than aggressive in pointing out he is backing away from this. dan: one aspect is useful to remember. if he fails his people and he will blame others. julie: absolutely. dan: he will not necessarily take the blame from his base as a result of that because he will be able to deflect as he is very good at doing. robert: jake, you track democrats. where are they in all this as the president maybe tries to get a clean debt limit? they usually wanted a clean debt limit in the past but now it seems they may be pushing for some concessions from republicans. jake: they feel like this is their one chance to get something. they're in the minority. they're out of power and out of ideas in a lot of ways. they have no leverage points. the obamacare subsidies, c.s.c. payments which helped kind of stablize insurance markets, trump is saying he'll stop them. so they are going to try to insert that into the debate and try to get that tacked on to the debt ceiling. that presents a whole other
raft of issues. republicans are not going to be for that and you loork at this now and you look at this kind of matrix of issues and you wonder how they'll get out of this. i was texting last night with a senior republican leadership aide in the senate who said don't worry. we have ideas. i said what are they? he said no one really knows yet. robert: it's not just democrats. let's think about the whole big moment for the republican party. the president had this bomb bass tick stream of consciousness rally in phoenix that is really setting the pace of how everything is going to probably unfold this fall. for 77 minutes the president rallied his base but he did it by attacking senators. john mccain and jeff blake in their home state, arizona. he defended his comments about the violence in charlottesville as well painting himself as a victim of the media claiming his words were not accurately reported. take a listen and you decide as we play the remarks side by side.
president trump: we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. that's me speaking on saturday. we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. on many sides. robert: white house economic adviser gary cohn said he seriously considered resigning after those remarks from president trump about the violence that left one counterprotester dead. cohn, who was jewish, was standing next to the president in the lobby of trump tower when he said this. president trump: i think there's blame on both sides. you look at both sides. i think there's blame on both sides. i have no doubt about it. robert: in an interview with the financial times on saturday trump said i bleamb this administration can and must do better in condemning these groups and do everything we can
to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities. dan, we're seeing the president tonight with the hurricane, hopefully everyone safe in texas. but also his own staff. he is facing these crises of character, crises of leadership as he approaches all of the other things we're talking about on capitol hill. dan: it is a terribly delicate moment for him. the combination of what happened, how he handled charlottesville and then what he did in phoenix at the rally has raised in a sense fundamental questions about is he fit to be in the office? does he have what it takes to be president? i think a lot of people have made judgments including people within the republican party. that doesn't mean they'll censure him or anything like that but how he conducts himself presidentally to gain back that support and trust, it
doesn't mean republicans in congress are going to vote against him. they'll vote in their self-interest. in many of those cases donald trump will be happy to sign that legislation. but he has lost something essential to being president and it is difficult to get that back. robert: i just want to share some breaking news. you think about how president trump is going to handle this, julie. joe arpaio, the controversial sheriff from maricopa county in arizona, he was pardoned tonight as the show was going to air, he was pardoned by president trump. and what a favor to the base -- favorite of the base this sheriff is and it shows as the president is confronting these things he is turning to the base. julie: he knows the base is extremely loyal. there have been some polls that show a slight weakening there but really when you talk to folks, trump voters and trump supporters in the house in particular, they are rock solid with trump. he knows he has come off a rough week with charlottesville
and the afghanistan decision is really unpopular. robert: why was sheriff joe pardoned? he was convicted of --. julie: trump has looked at sheriff joe who took a very hard line on immigration in arizona and he looked at him as an early supporter who believes in what he believes in on immigration. i think it's worth noting that it is unusual for presidents to make this type of controversial pardon at this phase of their presidency. they usually try to send that to the back end and do it for the last couple days in office. but to do it at this stage is extraordinary. jake: the thing that is striking to me is if you look at how trump treats his electoral base and how he treats his washington base, we're in 2017, right? and his base right now are 535 members of congress who will decide his presidency. look at what republicans did to barack obama. not passing judgment about the wisdom of what they did but they stood firm against his agenda and in a way forced him into signing a bunch of executive orders and using the
executive power more than the legislative power. this president might have to do the same because he is angering and agitating against key members of his governing coalition in a way that he is treating his electoral base so well but his washington base he is just forgetting about. robert: why does gary cohn stay? if the president continues to play to the base and make these controversial comments? dan: it is emblematic of so much of what we're seeing within the republican party today which is great dissatisfaction with the president, disgust with some of the things he's done. a desire to see him change. and now a kind of increasing recognition that is not going to happen yet they're not prepared to walk away. for whatever reason they see self-interest in staying where you are whether on the hill working with him or in the white house working for him. robert: julie, you run the associated press here in washington managing a lot of different reporters. the president's attacks on the media hit a new level.
julie: i think they did. we have to keep pointing this out. i am pretty clear eyed about this. we in the media don't have a lot of friends and sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by making ourselves the story instead of emphasizing the role we play in democracy and the important function we have in our politics. i think we need to keep pointing this out. if the public doesn't trust what they hear from independent news sources that puts our democracy in a really precarious position. i do think this is very strategic on the president's part. i've said this before. i think this is as much a part of his agenda as the wall and obamacare and tax reform is undermining the media so when there are media stories about him out there, really important reporting that is done, he can turn to his base and say, you don't believe that. we need to keep doing our job, doing it fairly. doing it accurately. and reminding people that what we are here to do is be their eyes and ears in washington and in the white house and
congress. robert: jake, on capitol hill the media again seems to have troubled capital with voters, with readers, because of some of these attacks. jake: i will say i find on capitol hill that members of congress are exceedingly good to reporters in a way that even staunch trump supporters kind of get the job we're supposed to do and appreciate it. i don't know. robert: that's true. a different environment on capitol hill versus back and forth with the president. the president's speech in arizona was such a high octane president trump, but the week began in a different way. the president announced a recommitment of troops to afghanistan in his first address to the nation, pledging to build up america's military presence in the region. president trump offered few specifics and the move to increase troop levels is a sharp reversal for him since he called for complete withdrawal on the campaign trail. president trump: the consequences of a rapid exit
are both predictable and unacceptable. we will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. conditions on the ground, not arbitrary time tables, will guide our strategy from now on. robert: secretary of state rex tillerson offered a grim assessment of the 16-year war. secretary tillerson: we believe we can turn the tide of what has been a losing battle over the last year and a half or so and at least stabilize the situation and hopefully start seeing some battlefield victories on the part of the afghan forces who have fought very bravely but they've been fighting with less than a full capability that we can give them. robert: nancy youssef our friend covers the pentagon and joins us from washington. this was a dramatic about face for the president. who convinced him to change course? nancy: there were a number of factors that came into play for
the president. remember, and as he said himself, that it's quite different when you're in office versus campaigning. he came into an afghanistan that while a strategy wasn't yielding any definitive measures of success, there had not been any major, 9/11 planned attacks from afghanistan. and so that, coupled with the fact that he had a general, general nicholson the commander in afghanistan, asking for 4,000 troops and not say 30,000 troops as president obama confronted in 2009, allowed for an incremental increase in the troop presence there. that coupled with the fact that he gave greater responsibility to the pentagon to determine the number of troops and the way the war was prosecuted puts the burden back on the pentagon and not just on him. so from the president's perspective it was less risky to have this incremental increase than to withdraw totally. robert: why the urgency on the
ground in afghanistan? we hear so much about isis in iraq and elsewhere but in afghanistan what is the actual strength of the taliban right now? nancy: it has grown in recent years. they control upwards of 40% of the country. they're running shadow governments not only in rural areas as they once did and at the beginning and even a few years ago but in urban areas. we're starting to see a growing taliban presence in the capital, itself, kabul. so there is a real risk that you have a taliban overtake this very tenuous afghan government and the afghan forces that aren't in place to be able to protect the country on their own. remember, these 4,000 troops aren't going toward counterterrorism. the bulk of them will go toward advising and training the afghan security forces. robert: nancy shall the president called on pakistan to help share the burden of combating terror in central asia. is that a realistic expectation that pakistan is going to step up and play a bigger role? nancy: well, from the pakistani perspective, they see the u.s.
presence as part of the reason that they have to continue to shape events in afghanistan. that's why you have things like the haqqani network and members of the taliban allowed to go back and forth in pakistan. the president made a very risky calculation by giving praise to india and essentially trying to pressure the pakistanis to do more by way of giving this sort of reach out to india. so far they have indicated that they're not onboard. we heard from the pakistani foreign minister saying that he would be visiting his allies in china and elsewhere to try to make the case that, in fact, they are offering what they're doing now is not contributing to terrorism but a force of stability. and so far we haven't seen him. we may see increased pressure from the u.s. in the form of strikes or even rhetoric that could change that. robert: stay with us, nancy. jake, real quick to close us out, and i want to go around real quick to dan and julie, will congress demand to hear more about the actual number of
troops on the ground in afghanistan? jake: absolutely. you'll have jim mattis up there the next couple weeks. we're not going to tell you our strategy is not what congress likes to hear because they cut the checks. they're going to say, no, you're committing u.s. troops. we are paying the bill. taxpayers deserve to know how many people will be there. robert: he ran as a noninterventionist, julie. is he now a hawk? julie: i don't know if i'd call him a hawk at this point but certainly he is someone who is not wrong, sitting in the oval office making these decisions is a lot different and i don't think he wants to be the kind of president that creates a vacuum in afghanistan that could potentially lead that country to become a launching pad again for a terrorism attack in the u.s. it is something that has haunted his predecessors as well. robert: dan, nancy mentioned all these generals around the president. isn't it unusual in history to have these military figures in civilian roles shaping policy in such a wide way? dan: highly unusual to have this many generals playing this prominent a role in the administration. and what is also interesting is
given all of the concerns about civilian control of the military, now you have in a sense military control of the white house and the president. a lot of people feel comforted by that. they feel these are professionals who have a duty to the country and will do the right thing if things go hay wire. robert: nancy, about 30 seconds left. i was just reading "looming tower" and you look at the soviet union, 1979. so many invasions throughout history. the president says he is not going to nation build, just send over advisers and trooms. is that a realistic, possible goal? nancy: well, a this point the goal is not winning as he states it but to not lose. i think we heard that from rex tillerson in his comments that this is not about nation building. i think he is right about that. this is also arguably not about winning. it is about creating an environment such that the taliban will be willing to come to the negotiation table because that is how this ends. robert: maybe that's how it ends. we'll see if it happens. we have to leave it there.
thanks so much nancy, dan balz, dave sherman, julie pace, and our conversation will continue as ever online on the washington week extra. we'll tell you about two governors, one a republican and the other a democrat. they're considering a joint independent bid for president in 2020. i know we're going there. you can find that later tonight at pbs.org/washington week. i'm robert costa. thanks for watching. have a great weekend. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow.
some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> additional funding is provided by -- dana-farber cancer institute. more at discovercarebelieve.org. newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. you. thank you.♪
it's really interesting to consider the relationships between these different puzzle pieces of the city. the goods, the services, the labor. they're all making these journeys from the nice west side to the more blue-collar south side, industrial east side. there's these travels going on within los angeles.